Garcia Richard bans coyote killing contests

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Executive order > New land boss, environmental groups laud plan to nix contests

By Tris DeRoma

New State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard signed an executive order Thursday banning coyote culling contests on state trust lands.

The move drew cheers from animal protection activists and frustration from coyote hunt organizers.  

Ranchers and outfitters from across the state have argued over the years that the contests are a tool for managing packs of coyotes that threaten livestock.

Jim Bob Allen, one of the organizers of the Call-in the Country Contest said the decision would result in an increase in coyote attacks on sheep and livestock that share the same territory. 

“We’ll definitely contest it,” Allen said. 

Allen also didn’t think there would be anyone to police it. 

“… My question is, does she have the right to do that? who’s going to police it?” Allen asked. 

Garcia Richard said during her press conference at the State Land Office in Santa Fe Thursday that the Land Office would be investigating any reports of violations and assessing any penalties.

Allen said the last time the state Legislature actually had a bill banning coyote killing contests on all land, not just state land grant land, none of the law enforcement agencies could do it.

“That’s what killed the bill the last time it was in the House and Senate. The New Mexico State Police, the Sheriff’s Association, the Game and Fish the local police ­­-- nobody would step up to police it,” Allen said. 

At the conference, Garcia held up photos of coyote carcasses to drive home her point of why she banned the practice. 

“This executive order is not to say that this State Land Office doesn’t support the hunters. Hunters who hunt ethically, hunters who use practices that follow the law, that use fair chase, hunters that use what they kill,” Garcia Richard said. “This is not to say that our 3,000 agricultural licensees are going to be dissuaded from humanely combating predation on their livestock and other animals. This is not what this day is about.”

Garcia Richard also said enforcement will be conducted the way it was before the ban on killing coyotes was lifted on state trust land many years ago. 

“Whenever there is a reported case, that will be investigated and the appropriate penalties will be assessed at that time,” Garcia Richard said. 

Coyote hunters said they never got a chance to save the option to have their sport on state trust land.

One hunter, who only wanted to be known as Jeremy, said the contest does much to keep coyotes from preying on livestock and pets. According to Jeremy, coyotes eat more pets than anything else.

“You can do the research, there’s some information out there, and coyotes eat more cats than anything out there,” he said. 

He also said no matter how many are killed, they will never become endangered, because of their adaptiveness.

“They cohabitate with humans. They’re in backyards, they’re in the parking lots of Wal Marts. We will never put a dent in the coyote population, ever. They’re survivors,” Jeremy said.

Organizations at Garcia Richard’s press conference were glad to see the action taken.

“We are thrilled that she is taking this bold move. We are hopeful that this will also support legislation to ban the practice at the state level,’ ProjectCoyote founder Camilla H. Fox said at the signing. “We believe the public is with us on this issue.” 

Legislative efforts to end coyote contests have come up short in recent years. In 2018, city councilors in the state’s most populous city passed a resolution condemning the contests and supporting legislation for a statewide ban, according to the Associated Press.

Jeremy said he would have liked to reach some sort of compromise with the state land commissioner. 

“It’s funny how all the other states that surround us, Colorado, Texas… even Colorado has put a limit. They didn’t ban it, they put a limit on how many coyotes you can cull in a contest situation. Even they know there are sportsmen out there who have paid their dues and have the right, and you cannot take that away from them. If you want to do something about it, be reasonable, Sit down with Game and Fish and say ‘hey, is there a healthy enough population to put a number on them’… but don’t ban it completely. That won’t do any good.” 

Jeremy also said, however, he could see where people become frustrated with what he says is the very few of their number who disrespect the sport. He also said out of a hundred contestants, only a few bring in three or four coyotes each on the average.

“When they see these coyotes being discarded inappropriately, that is very disrespectful to the sport, to the animal to the people,” he said. “Nobody wants to see that, I don’t want to see that as a hunter… That’s what’s stirring this pot… the irresponsible people who do these things.”

Jeremy also said legitimate contests have a fur buyer there to dispose of the animals and the pelts. 

“If no one would see a pile of coyotes dumped on a county road, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion,” Jeremy said.

He also said they will probably have to live with the ban because their numbers are few.

“The reason why coyote hunters don’t stand up for themselves or can’t is because we don’t have the organization, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and so forth. We don’t have the money or the backing.’ They say, ‘you need to get rid of these guys in Wyoming. You need to get rid of these guys in Arizona.’ We don’t have the funds to do that,” Jeremy said. 

As she signed the order, Garcia Richard was joined by animal and wildlife advocates from Animal Protection Voters, The Sierra Club, Project Coyote, Wild Earth Guardians, Prairie Dog Pals and Wildlife Conservation Advocacy Southwest.

“We applaud Land Commissioner Garcia Richard’s announcement prohibiting the competitive killing of our state’s wildlife on state trust land,” said Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Wildlife Chair Mary Katherine Ray. “These organized wildlife massacres do not meet any modern principle of scientific wildlife management.”

According to Garcia Richard’s campaign finance reports for 2018, Garcia Richard received $346.81 from the Animal Protection Voters organization and $350 from their Albuquerque political action committee. 

She also received $4,250 Oct. 16, 2018, from the Sierra Club Political Committee in Oakland, California. The Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club also provided Garcia Richard $5,401.83 of in-kind services to her campaign on Nov. 6, 2018, which consisted of getting out the vote for Garcia Richard’s campaign, according to Ramona Blaber, spokeswoman for the group. 

Blaber said that even though the public was not provided with an official public comment period prior to Garcia Richard’s decision, Garcia Richard did speak about the issue during the campaign and voters elected her based that.

Many environmental organizations have used litigation  to ensure agencies provide public comment periods before imposing new rules.

“She campaigned on the promise to end killing contests on state trust land, and New Mexicans voted for her based on that,” Blaber said. 

“So that’s the public input,” Blaber said. “Because she talked about it on the campaign trail, and New Mexicans voted for her based on what she talked about on the campaign trail.”

State land commissioners have the final say, Blaber said.

“The state land commissioner has different powers than like panels and boards around the state,” Blaber said. “Whether you like it or not, that’s been the case for as long as we’ve had a land commissioner in charge of state trust land.”

“The First Amendment right is just the ability to speak, which of course everybody has. But like Aubrey Dunn and Ray Powell before her, the state land commissioner is a powerful position,” Blaber said.